November 30, 2017 Practice Points

How to Survive the Holiday Season with Your Health (and Sanity) Intact

By Emily J. Kirk

I’m no expert on how to survive the holidays. For the past several years, I’ve found the whole experience to be pretty miserable (pretty sad, huh). There are so many things to do (presents to buy and wrap, events to attend, friends and family to see)—and that’s on top of work obligations that can be never-ending as clients and colleagues try to wrap up end of the year needs. It’s enough to make a person, well, miserable.

After feeling overwhelmed the past few years, I decided this was the year to do things differently. And so far, so good. I’m not doing anything magical by any means. But I am putting myself first, as selfish as it sounds. And hopefully, by following the plan below, I’ll find enjoyment in the holiday season once again.

1. Plan Ahead. Yes, I realize this is hard. Demands pop up in your personal and professional life that you can’t always plan for. (I mean, who doesn’t want to spend precious time in an already overly packed month finding a costume for their child’s school holiday program with only a few days’ notice from the teacher—true story, by the way.) Even though events and obligations will pop up, there are several things you do know about ahead of time. Shopping is a big one. I opted to do all of mine in November this year so I wasn’t forced to do it all in one afternoon relying on Amazon’s two-day shipping policy (although it is quite handy). I actually set aside time to go out and shop in a real store (before the crowds hit) so I could enjoy the process. Not only did it get an obligation off my plate, but I found that I was able to put thought into buying more meaningful gifts. And it doesn’t have to be shopping—it can be dinners, parties, anything. Don’t wait until the last minute to plan what you’ll need for each event so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute (causing unneeded stress).

2. Maintain a Routine. Ok, don’t laugh at that one. I know that maintaining a routine at the end of the year sounds like crazy talk. But it doesn’t have to be. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. It really does help with limiting sluggishness and overall malaise. As does getting enough sleep. If you take the time to plan ahead (see above), it really isn’t THAT hard. (Ok, it is. But you can try!)

3. Eat Healthy. You may be laughing at this one, too. Trust me, I know. Halloween through the New Year can be hard. There are so many goodies available at all times. It’s hard to resist—which is why the average American gains 15 pounds during this time period. Yikes! I decided that wasn’t going to be me this year. Every year I felt so sluggish throughout the winter—kind of like a need to hibernate. And I hated it! So I vowed to make a change. I’m not going to deprive myself of those goodies that are really special treats (like my mom’s dressing on Thanksgiving—yum!). But my goal is to be mindful of what I am eating. Generally speaking, I plan to eat normal, healthful food during the week, saving indulgences for truly special occasions. (Ask me in January how well I did.)

4. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise. This is a funny one coming from someone like me (I haven’t regularly worked out in quite some time). But I started a regular class in early November in an effort to combat winter fatigue. So far, it’s working. It only meets 3 days a week, and I know that my schedule won’t allow me to get there every time it meets. But even 1–2 days is an improvement. (And if I can’t get there, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.)

5. Consider a Program Like Meditation. I didn’t buy into the idea of meditation for a long time. To be honest, it seemed hokey. But in the middle of a very stressful time in my life, I decided “why not.” And funny thing, I liked it. A lot! There are so many resources available that don’t require classes or high costs. I use the app, Insight Timer, which allows you to pick from thousands of meditation topics and programs. If you aren’t into apps, there’s a great book by Jeena Cho called The Anxious Lawyer that talks about meditation in a way that a lawyer’s mind can understand. I highly recommend it—and you can even buy it through the ABA. If meditation isn’t your thing, maybe try a yoga class or something of that nature. Relaxation and exercise together—you can’t beat that!

6 Talk to Your Doctor. If you find yourself overly fatigued this time of year, it could be more than holiday stress. Lots of people suffer from the effects of sunlight deprivation during the winter. I’ve found a lot of success with Vitamin D supplements (but, again, I’m not a doctor or expert—so talk to your doctor before starting any regimen). There are also light therapy (happy) lights that you can buy which give you a dose of light to counteract the effect that darkness can have on your body. If you find yourself struggling more than normal, make an appointment to talk to your doctor about these and other options that might be available. You certainly won’t be alone in doing so.

7. Make Time for Family and Friends. Even though the season is busy, plan some downtime. Find a day or evening for a casual outing with family or friends—or, better yet, stay in. Watch a movie together, play a game. Find a few hours to unplug and just enjoy the people you love. (That means put your phone away!)

As I said, there’s nothing magical to my list—and I’m a work in progress when it comes to these things. But I decided that putting myself first would be the key to enjoying the season at work and at home. I hope you will consider doing the same. Happy Holidays!

Emily J. Kirk is an associate at McCuneWright LLP in St. Louis, Missouri.

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